We’ve all had those days when things just seem to keep piling on. We take care of what we can, but things still slip through our fingers. We fret … we overanalyze … we worry. Meanwhile, the stress builds. It affects our bodies, mood and emotions until eventually, we begin to crumble under its weight. How do we handle the stress of the day-to-day? How do we calm our minds and bodies? How do we find clarity? And most importantly, how do we let it all go?
For many of us, the answer to reducing and coping with stress is elusive. A hidden panacea for the problem doesn’t exist, as the answer is different for everyone. The secret to reducing stress is to find an outlet. In this article, we present a mantra, or aspiration if you will, that may help you create your own particular recipe for stress reduction: Be Active. Be Mindful. Be Organized. Be Relaxed.
Exercise and/or activity is probably the No. 1 reliever of stress. Do something! Being active in any form releases “feel good” endorphins in your body and can be a great distraction from everyday worries. Sitting and watching television is not an activity. Mindlessly browsing the internet is not an activity (browsing the internet may actually make matters worse.) Neither one engages the body or the brain. To be active and to exercise is to move. Make a plan to dedicate at least one hour a day to being physically active doing something that you love.
Exercise – Not only does it release endorphins, it also works as a form of meditation in motion. If you are concentrating on a sport or workout, you are not concentrating on your current stressors. Exercise not only helps with stress relief, it benefits your body, thereby reducing potential health hazards that can cause stress in the future. Go for a walk or a run, visit a gym, join a local athletics club such as golf, tennis, basketball or swimming. Find something you love to do, and do it.
Sex and Intimacy – The physical activity and mental gratification of sex can greatly reduce feelings of stress. Research has shown that simply snuggling with your significant other can lighten mood and release endorphins that can lessen the burden of stress.
Find an Active Hobby Doing something for the love of it keeps your mind off worries that cause mental strain or fatigue. Be a gardener, wood-worker, archer, hunter, machinist, etc. Move and create. Being active with your hobby can increase feelings of self-confidence and accomplishment. If you have such a hobby, make sure to schedule some time for it. Remember: the trick is to be active, not sedentary. Don’t give stress any time to consume your energy.
Nutrition – Eat healthy. Getting proper nutrition is a wonderful way to feel better and have the energy needed to begin an activity or exercise regimen. Also, try to reduce consumption of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Consuming alcohol can seem like it helps reduce stress, but the reality is that over-imbibing only increases stressors and can strain relationships, exacerbating the problem. Caffeine and nicotine can also be detrimental – each increases anxiety. If you are a four-cups-of-coffee-in-the-morning kind of person, try to cut your consumption in half or switch to decaf. If you smoke, switching to vaping and then gradually reducing the nicotine content of the vape cartridge is a good way to quit smoking altogether.
It’s a buzzword these days – mindfulness is defined as the state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts and body. It is a way of pushing stress away and living in the moment – a moment of just being. Mindfulness can come through thought, movement or creativity. Here are a few common ways to practice mindfulness.
Meditation – This involves finding a comfortable position, focusing on breathing and bringing one’s mind to the present moment. All future and past experience is forgotten … you’re in the now, now. Be there. Some relax using a technique called guided imagery by creating a pleasant or soothing scene in the mind. It can also help to recite a mantra, phrase or prayer to help clear the mind. Examples of mantras are: “I change my thoughts, I change my world,” “Love is the only miracle there is,” “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better,” or the simple “Om.”
Yoga – A method of meditation through motion, yoga combines rhythmic breathing with postures and flowing movement. It is meditation and exercise in one. The physical aspects of yoga enhance the mind’s focus on working in one point in time. This exercise can help a person push away distracting thoughts and inner turmoil while enhancing the body’s flexibility, balance and strength.
Art Therapy – By releasing your creativity, art works much like meditation. Those in art therapy often find themselves so consumed with expressing themselves that stress is forgotten. Some call this sense of total immersion “the zone” or state of “flow.” A successful treatment for those suffering from dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder, art therapy can also enhance self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment.
Writing – Putting it all on paper can work wonders to alleviate feelings of burden and anxiety. Keeping a stress diary can also help to recognize situations that cause the most stress and figure out better ways to cope with that stress or avoid it altogether. You’re not writing a novel, just let the words flow.
Music – Playing or listening to music can help with relaxation, meditation or even exercise. Soothing music can help calm and quiet the mind, while upbeat music can create a feeling of energy that can spur movement or exercise. Either sit back and relax or dance the night away – both will reduce stressful thoughts and feelings.
Don’t let stress tear you down. Find your unique
stress-reducing recipe and change your lifestyle.
Organization outside can help organization inside. Feelings of stress can come from perceived loss of control or uncertainty about the future. Organization can reintroduce a person’s feeling of control over their own life. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like you were “on top of things” once again? Organization can help a person work toward a foreseeable goal, even if the goal is to reduce stress.
Use a planner or scheduling app – Make time to make time. Just planning out your day and working through it can bring an immediate sense of accomplishment. You will feel less behind and feel like your days have purpose. Schedules do change and should, but just going into the day with a plan is an enormous relief.
Work to solve problems – Take a large problem (stressor) and break it down into smaller pieces. Schedule steps to take that will accomplish those smaller pieces. This technique can be used to complete large, worrisome work tasks or to help build a broken relationship. Always work toward a goal and plan the steps ahead of time.
Clean up your work/home space – Before you get control of yourself, it can help to get control of your surroundings. A beautifully organized place in itself, can bring a sense of calm and serenity. Manage your place as if a loved one will be coming to visit – you’ll always feel ready for anything.
Be assertive – It’s okay to say “no.” Stress is often caused by the feeling of having too much to do and no time to do it. This is often perceived as a loss of control. Learn to say “no” to additional, yet unimportant requests of your time. Being assertive can help with self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment. Remember: your barriers to saying “no” are all self-imposed. It may be prudent to practice saying “no” in a polite manner.
It’s everyone’s dream, isn’t it? To just be utterly and completely relaxed and truly “let it all go.” Our bodies can store stress in a number of places which causes tension in the back, legs, arms, neck and shoulders. This can result in headaches, strains and chronic pain. Knowing how to completely relax your body can go a long way toward reducing stress and its resulting symptoms.
Massage Therapy – Administered by a licensed practitioner, massage can help reduce physical and mental feelings of stress, depression and anxiety. A massage can help your thoughts drift away from worry and allow your body and mind to relax. Massage can increase blood circulation and alleviate pain in joints and muscles.
Progressive Relaxation – With this technique, a person rhythmically tenses and relaxes each group of muscles in coordination with breathing. You tense a group of muscles (such as your arms) as you slowly breathe in, and relax them as you slowly breathe out. Muscle groups are addressed in a certain order, starting with the hands and ending with the lower legs. This exercise can help with feelings of fatigue, muscle pain and body control.
Aromatherapy – Believe it or not, there is research that supports the benefits of aromatherapy for stress reduction. It can reduce the amount of the stress hormone “cortisol” while increasing feelings of contentment. Aromatherapy has also been shown to enhance the effects of massage.
Sleep – Stress and sleep don’t play well together. A lack of sleep can cause undue stress, while stress can cause a lack of sleep. One of your goals should be to attempt to reduce your stress level before attempting sleep. Engaging in some exercise, an active hobby, art therapy, writing or meditation can help reduce stress. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Your bedroom should be a calming oasis where you go every night to forget the day and dream about starting fresh tomorrow.
Don’t let stress tear you down. Find your one-of-a-kind stress-reducing recipe and change your lifestyle. Be Active. Be Mindful. Be Organized. Be Relaxed … and let it all go.
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